VMA Lens Recap: The Story Behind P.O.D.'s 'Alive'

Director Francis Lawrence tells the story behind a Best Video of the Year contender.

In director Francis Lawrence's personal copy of P.O.D.'s stunning "Alive" video, the driver of the car demolished by a bus is never seen after the accident.

In the version nominated for Best Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 29, the driver walks away from the horrific crash unscathed.

Thank P.O.D.'s record label for that. No, really, thank them.

"It has so much more impact when you see him step out of the car," admitted Lawrence, whose résumé includes Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U." "I would have thought it would be more impactful not seeing him, but it wasn't."

Either way, the ending of the "Alive" video is simply the punctuation mark on what is one of the most visually compelling videos in years. And although the song and video were released before September 11, both would serve as inspiration in a poignant time for America.

"When we saw it on paper it was just like, 'Car crash? That's kind of crazy, man. How's he gonna do this?' " P.O.D. guitarist Marcos Curiel recalled. In the end, the video "touched so many people's lives all over the world. To this day I get people coming up to me going, 'Dude, that video's so dope.' "

While P.O.D. credit Lawrence for the clip ("He just got it," Curiel said), Lawrence emphasized the importance of the song.

"Because [the accident] is so horrific, having a song like that makes it more emotional and not sort of about the horror of it, which I think is key, so it plays on a bunch of levels," Lawrence explained.

But the video almost didn't have "Alive" to go along with it. Lawrence had conceived the idea a few years ago and had pitched it to several artists. "I'm so glad I didn't get those jobs, because this was so perfect," the director said.

For P.O.D., Lawrence wrote a more complete story around his idea and decided to intercut scenes of the driver enjoying his day with scenes from the accident and the band performing.

"It never had the emotional thread it had until I formatted it for this song," he said. "I've done emotional videos before, but having stuff kids like — surfing, skating, making out — plus the visual punch of the car accident. It packs it all."

What attracted Lawrence to the car wreck concept was the idea of stretching out the few seconds of a serious event into a four-minute video. He was also enthused about capturing something on camera most people will always slow down to watch.

"I wanted to investigate the anatomy of a car crash," he said.

For the accident scenes, shot over two toasty days under a freeway intersection in the San Fernando Valley last summer, Lawrence meticulously broke down the wreck into several different parts "so each section of the song had a different portion of the car crash ... and there's always something new happening to the car."

For the initial impact part of the crash, Lawrence filmed a full-speed "violent" version with a dummy in the car and a slower-speed version with a stunt driver. Each part of the crash was shot with seven cameras, all at different processing speeds.

To show the bus dragging the car, the crew installed casters on the car so it could move sideways and attached the vehicle to the bus. "We shot everything [after the impact] slow, because after you have seen the impact, you just believe this is all happening at great speed," Lawrence explained.

For the release of the car, the director attached a cable to the vehicle and yanked it with a Hummer. They also used the cable to spin the car, roll it and drag it slowly through the members of P.O.D. performing. Smoke and wind, along with shaky camera operation, were used for more dynamics.

In postproduction, Lawrence painted out the cables and digitally tossed in debris flying through the air.

For the interior car shots, the crew put an axle through the car lengthwise and turned it with a crank while the driver — an actor cast through a Hollywood agency — sat in the driver's seat. Lawrence also filmed him in front of a green screen in a room where he could use a high-powered air gun.

"We blast him in the face so his cheeks would jiggle and mouth would open, as if the impact was so great that it was moving his skin," Lawrence said, sounding almost giddy. "And then I would literally run up and ram him with my body. So his body would act like a real jolt. And we shot it at 360 frames a second, so it just turns into this weird ... like he's a rag doll."

At the end of the two days, Lawrence had gone through three cars — a challenge in itself. "It was hard to find three cars like that," he said. "It would have been really easy to find muscle cars, but I thought it was too tough. I wanted to find a car that would really get creamed."

After filming the crash and performance scenes, Lawrence spent two more days shooting scenes that showed what happened to the main character before the accident, when he went surfing, skating and hung out with his girlfriend.

Their climatic kiss, filmed in a train tunnel equipped with a powerful fan (the train was added digitally), was not part of Lawrence's original treatment.

"I actually wanted the guy and the girl go at it a little more hardcore, and it wasn't in the train tunnel, rather a bedroom in a friend's house," the director revealed. "I wanted it to be closer to sex than what it is now, so you have the guy going surfing, hanging with friends and getting laid. You can't ask for a better day than that."

Again, thank the label. Only this time, be sarcastic.

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